Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Columbia Public Schools ACT scores show differences in Integrated and Algebra pathways

CPS Secondary Math Curriculum Coordinator Chip Sharp provided average ACT scores reported by course enrollment which are used in the figures below. Plotting the data in several ways gives food for thought regarding the differences between algebra and integrated math pathways offered at CPS.

The data don't distinguish between which students are sophomores, juniors or seniors when they take the ACT, which students may have repeated courses or what year they started the pathway (7th, 8th or 9th grade). But it does give some idea of how much math "preparation" each course pathway provides at least for the years for which data is available.

The average ACT score is highest for students in the honors algebra pathway. Note that the average ACT score of students in the regular (non-honors) algebra pathway is higher than the average ACT of honors integrated math (IM) students, with regular (non-honors) IM students having the lowest scores. But the year-to-year increase in ACT scores is similar for the algebra, honors algebra and honors integrated pathways. The increase for the regular IM pathway is less from year 2 to 3, but similar for year 3 to 4.

Looking at how much ACT scores change year-to-year in the course sequence suggests where students might have a difficult time moving up to higher level math. For example, regular IM students that try to take either of the AP Calculus courses may struggle since the jump in ACT scores is quite big. (As a matter of fact, very few regular IM students enroll in AP math courses.) Honors algebra pathway students may not be adequately challenged by AP calculus AB (one semester of college calculus in a year-long high school course) since the average ACT score actually drops from precalc to AP calc AB; they should likely be encouraged to enroll in AP calculus BC (one year of college calculus in a year-long high school course).

Another way of looking at the data shows that after four years in regular IM, ACT scores are about the same as students with just two years of algebra pathway coursework. Although students in 2nd year IM have higher ACT scores than 1st year algebra students, after four total years of IM coursework, their ACT scores are lower than algebra students with just three years of coursework.

Comparing ACT scores of groups of students that start algebra and integrated pathways in the same year and with similar Terra Nova scores in 8th grade would likely make clear whether one pathway or the other provides better preparation for the ACT and potentially give some guidance for math placement.


Anonymous said...

What students are taking the different course pathways or tracks? If you looked at the class rank of students in the traditional versus the integrated approach, what differences would you see. Also, I was just reading an article in the USA Today about the recent release of the ACT test scores. It was very interesting. Here is a link to the web page. .

I found a little piece at the end of the article to be interesting indeed. Here is the little snippet from the article:

"But ACT also maintains the core courses need more rigor. Among 2008 graduates who took the minimum core curriculum in math — algebra I and II plus geometry — just 14% met the math benchmark."

Anonymous said...

Another thought as I look at this data. These are the average ACT test scores for all students in these course sequences. When you call these the average ACT test scores, are these the average mathematics subscore or the average composite score? This would make a big difference as well in how I interpret what you have presented. If the "average ACT score" is the composite score for these students, you are evaluating a math course sequence on the basis of a test score which includes Reading and Science test items. If this is the case, you cannot make any determination between the two course sequences without trying to see other factors related to course sequences between these sets of students. To blame the drop in composite ACT test scores on one part of the curriculum content is very difficult to support without further data!

If these are the math subscores, then there can be an adequate comparison of the data. Then we just need more information about the types of students enrolled in each course sequence. In other words, do the majority of the upper students or brighter students tend to follow the Algebra I, II and Geometry... sequence. Then they would tend to pull up the average score if they are the predominant group in that sequence. If the other sequence includes students primarily from the say the 25% to 75% rank in class, then this data might not point to the curriculum as much as the type of students included in the sample data.

In looking at the data, we are assuming that each group or sequence has a similar makeup of student population such that a comparision of the two programs can be made.